6 Oct 2015

Just Like Mars - Jocelyn Dunn

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:10 pm on 6 October 2015

Six people who spent eight months in a 120 square meter dome to simulate what astronauts might experience on Mars have learned lessons about dealing with stress and isolation that can apply to life on earth according to mock astronaut Jocelyn Dunn.

Mock astronaut Jocelyn Dunn.

Mock astronaut Jocelyn Dunn. Photo: HI SEAS

The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation or  (HI-SEAS) experiment is funded by NASA to study how people might cope with prolonged isolation and  life on the Red Planet. Dunn’s role was to access stress levels through constant sampling of the crew inside the dome. “I wasn’t analysing the data while I was in there because I didn’t want to confound my studies by looking at my own stress levels” she says.

While putting six people in a confined space can create stress, she says the mock astronauts came up with strategies to combat that. “We had weekly debriefs to bring up anything that was bothering us and make sure you don’t let things fester over 8 months."

She says research shows there is a risk of any team getting on too well. “They get into this mode that they are supporting each other  so well that when anything goes wrong they blame it on the ground, not each other."

Dunn says the worst part of the eight months in the dome was the last month. “I had plans for the summer I was ready to move on with the next chapter. It’s like when you have plans for a  trip on the weekend and the week crawls by. That is how I felt the last month or so."

Kiwifruit is what she craved when she and the crew finally stepped out of the dome. “I was craving anything I could cut with a knife. The freeze dried food all comes diced."

One day, she hopes she can go into space instead of just simulating it. “I think I have a pretty good chance it depends on the ages they want to choose in the 2030s”  

She and the other crew were “both the research subjects and researchers ourselves - we each had our own projects”, Dunn told Jesse Mulligan.